August 13, 2018

Pushing for your goals and navigating luck

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Staying strong, going towards your goal and never giving up. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

As you’ve already guessed, it’s not that simple.

The downside of pushing through

There’s a joke I heard recently. During a motivational talk, the presenter says – ‘Never, ever give up! Do you have somebody in your life who followed that motto?’ One of the listeners stands up and says ‘Yes, that’s my uncle. He gambled away all his money, his car, his summer house and his flat, and is now homeless.’

Making a plan, sticking with it and forcing your way through the obstacles is not always feasible. Far too many things in our life don’t depend on us.

What about the people who relentlessly pursued their goal against all odds then? Don’t they always get there? What about singers and actors who get famous despite everyone around them telling them they can’t possibly make it? All those stories about defying the odds and going against the flow?

The answer is that we only hear about the ones that made it. And we don’t hear about the ones who didn’t. It’s called Survivorship Bias.

Instead of trying to rigidly follow the original plan, you’ll be better off if you are not set on your chosen path, and are on the lookout for other opportunities too.

As Lao-Tzu once said, ‘A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving’. By the way, you may be interested to know that I got this quote from the onboard magazine of the Ukrainian Airlines.

Since lucky breaks can take various shapes, you need to recognize them when you see them. You also need to put yourself in a position to make use of them. Think the old joke about God and winning the lottery.  Some skills today are so universally recognized that not having them will deprive you of almost any opportunity (much like not buying a lottery ticket) – I am talking about speaking English and knowing IT.

Navigating your luck

Overall luck distribution in our life looks something like this:


How to handle these luck fluctuations then?

First of all, it’s not helpful is to view these luck fluctuations as being there for some higher reason. We, humans, are inclined to see the reason behind everything. That’s our evolutionary advantage that allowed us to establish links between seemingly disconnected events and engage in long-term planning. Yet the same trait is playing tricks on us, as we are forced by our nature to create links and rationalize where it’s not needed.

‘Everything happens for a reason’, ‘It’s my karma’, ‘God works in mysterious ways’, ‘I don’t deserve better’ – it’s tempting to think there is a reason behind your luck fluctuations. And you could say, what’s the harm in thinking that if it makes me feel better? The harm is in the fact that you stop trying. “Why, oh God, why?” is not a good response to a challenging situation.

Note that zero level luck is a very subjective thing. Depending on your expectations level and general positivity, you may think that your life is always lucky (only sometimes less and sometimes more), or that you are always down on your luck, stuck in various degrees of shit. Whatever your attitude is, it’s helpful to remember that these fluctuations are random. You can’t fight them and need to adjust to them.

Second of all, it’s important to remember that these fluctuations are temporary. And while the graph above shows ‘time’ as the x-axis, it’s not entirely correct. It’s really time multiplied by actions.

Imagine being stuck in a dead end job with a horrible boss. If you do nothing about it, then you can consider yourself permanently unlucky. If you start applying for other jobs and are not successful, then you are unlucky not to get them – until you finally get one.

In our life, we are often faced with situations where the cost of trying is negligible, yet the payback is high. Think of a salesperson making calls, or a young boy asking a girl out.  Success is linked to the number of attempts, the way in which you are making your attempt and where you are on the luck curve. You may get lucky the first time you try, or after you tried one hundred times. The good news is that mathematically you are unlikely to fail overall if you try often enough.

You could even say that you help to push the luck curve along by being active and trying.

Ultimately, this is the way to navigate your luck – be active, put yourself in a position to explore a lucky break when it comes, and remember that sooner or later, your luck is going to change for the better. Good luck with that 😉

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